Saturday, 27 July 2013

Big Bang Theory

I decided today to do a post on something that I’m very passionate about, my nerdy-ness. I think that some people think being a nerd is socially degrading or has negative connotations or means you are weird. There is so much ridiculousness surrounding nerds that are stirred up by fake stereotypes. I wonder even how the misconceptions about us even came to be, they are so false and not even grounded in the truth.

I am a nerd. I strive to learn new things each and every day. I believe that every day you should go to bed wiser than when you got up that morning. I truly enjoy learning new thing. In no way am I claiming that I am sophisticated or some sort of genius, as there are, and always will be, people who are vastly smarter and more sophisticated than I. However, this does not bother me, nor should it. One day I stumbled upon a quote by Socrates in which he claimed, “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” I went to bed that night wiser than the day prior.

Finally, I am a learner because I believe in improving one’s self in all facets of life. Whether it’s physical or mental, I believe in always getting better and improving myself. I enjoy reading, to increase my vocabulary and improve my knowledge. Learning does not solely occur in classrooms, it’s all around us, and not only do I think it’s necessary, but I enjoy it.  

I am not super book smart but if I could erase Algebra from my mind, I would. Some nerds are probably geniuses, I’m sure, but a lot of us aren’t.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

The Paper Chase

When the teacher tells us to open the book, have we ever thought that we will learn something new? Have we ever thought that this will increase our knowledge and make us a little better person than we were yesterday? I’m sure most of us don’t do that. When we go to the class, we don’t think that we will learn something exciting today but we think of strategies and ways to understand the concept through rote-learning so that it can stay in our heads till the exams only. There is no guarantee of whether it stays there after exam or not. We have never thought of learning beyond school. I agree that calculus might not help you when you will be living a life you have dream of; but why not learn things with more interest in learning rather than achieving higher grades.

We all are going through this system and we are very well aware of what happens in a class room. A person who gets A+ in a subject automatically becomes the teacher’s favorite. A classroom is more of a race competition than a learning space. We don’t learn as much as we worry about our grades.

One of the major flaws in our education system is the characteristic of being extremely exam oriented. To quite an extent, classroom teaching at any level; be it primary, secondary or our colleges; is undertaken keeping in mind the “exam point of view”. Classroom discussion is minimal, and it generally takes place, if at all, at the beginning of the session and then too is quashed out in the race to finish the course before the exams. 

Students are, therefore, molded to care about the exam and marks rather than actually study a subject because they enjoy it. They are not encouraged to think creatively or to explore their subject in more depth, in fear of digressing from the prescribed syllabi. Learning is limited to what is in the textbook, and very few students actually think beyond them. Many of them lose interest and therefore the increasing trend among colleges to offer marks for attendance to make students attend classes.

Another reason for this may also be because of a deeper social problem. Students are often forced to study disciplines that they are not really interested in, because society considers other disciplines worthless as they deviate from societal norms. Therefore classes are considered to be a burden.

But even the students who choose a subject of their choice are often condemned to being incentive only by marks for attending classes due to the poor quality of teaching. Learning then becomes learning about how astutely to attempt an exam and maximizing marks from it. Exams also then become a burden because students are forced to study something they are uninterested and uninvolved with. Students learn very little about the subject. Very few graduates actually remember what or why they studied a particular thing even though they spent 3-4 years studying it.

This does not mean we do away with exams. Quite to the contrary exams are required to test how well students their subject. But it shouldn’t be the sole purpose of the educational institutions. Teachers should be encouraged to make the subject they are teaching as interesting as they can. Students will then be encouraged to study and understand their subject and actually enjoy it. Marks in the exams will automatically follow. Exams should be therefore made more challenging. They shouldn’t just test the reading of a textbook, but the application of the subject.

While attending Yale University, Fred Smith wrote a paper on the need for reliable overnight delivery in a computerized information age. His professor found the premise improbable, and to the best of Smith's recollection, he only received a grade of C for this effort, but the idea remained with him. Today, FedEx Express is the world's leading express transportation provider. Smith's professor at Yale may not have seen the need for overnight delivery, but today's business world depends on businesses like FedEx shipping all manner of goods around the globe quickly and reliably

The system, if ever changed, will take a long time to change but why don’t we try to bring a little change within ourselves by practically following this quote. After we finish our academic studies, we will have 40 or so years left to live a life we have been struggling for; then why not try to enjoy what we learn instead of trying to be a grade-holic. Learn for the sake of gaining knowledge – not because you have to but because you want to.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

The Diamond in the Rough

If I had to pick one skill to master, I think storytelling would be a close contender for the top spot. Stories are how we organize our experiences in the world and how we make sense of events that have happened to us. In fact, the purpose of the interview process is for interviewers to get past the facts of your resume and figure out who you are – your story.

But imagine sitting in a job interview. The candidate already nervous. They know they have something to contribute. However, when the interviewer asks them to tell them about themselves, they buckle. They realize telling their story in person is quite difficult. They stumble or forget the most important pieces of their personal story, potentially damaging their interview experience.

Sometimes individuals simply don’t impress with their resumes or interviewing techniques, but in the end can be potential star employees. They just may not have a knack for writing resumes or let nerves get the better of them during interviews. Or they may not meet all of your requirements right now, but could with some training or guidance.

There’s often debate between the two words ‘potential’ or ‘experience’. As employers, you are in a position where you need to hire candidates that are right for the role, but even for the candidate that doesn’t have an extensive background, if you don’t take the chance in hiring them, how will they gain the experience?

Some candidate doesn’t have the “wow” factor in their resume. Even if job titles aren’t impressive, for instance, consider the individual’s track record. If the person made the most out of a position, showed initiative and took on greater challenges, these are positive signs.

Consider the intangibles. Personality, motivation and being a good fit for the organization can’t be quantified the same way as time spent in a finance management role or years working with an organization, for instance. But often it’s these “softer” factors that are most critical in an employee. When interviewing, look for individuals who are eager to join your team, have a history of making an impact and continuing to learn (even if it’s in an unrelated field), and have the social skills to easily transition into the group.

Remember, you can always train someone in a particular technology, but you can’t create a drive to succeed or force chemistry with co-workers if it doesn’t exist. Additionally, be sure to talk to references. They can give you a better sense of an individual’s work style and qualifications, helping you to compare information and make a more informed selection.

The “Diamond in the Rough” candidates are very often having something to prove; they are doer. In their mind, they need to demonstrate their ability and are sometimes willing to go the extra mile. They have this mentality because they haven’t been able to rely on a perfect resume in order to get ahead and are grateful for every opportunity to prove themselves.

Recently, I watched “The Internship”. The movie offers much more than that as you get real life lessons about the importance of human connection and teamwork in the workplace no matter what job function that you do. It was about two salesmen who lost their job and decided to get internships at Google. They were accepted due to their unorthodox interview answers, despite their lack of relevant experience but eventually they won the job because not because of their technical skills but because they were givers not takers.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Run Fatboy Run

As I sat in a two-hour long all employees meeting at my work today, I had to fight the boredom of watching a long presentation of slides after slides. But being bored was not the biggest thing on my mind, I had to be strong while I see everyone around me eat and drink. Ramadan is not easy for people who work- they had to continue doing their best while running on empty. 

For Muslims in non-Muslim work environment challenge is many-fold. Since you don’t want to give the impression that fasting is bringing down your productive therefore you have to work really hard when all you feel like is taking a nap and you can’t drink coffee to keep yourself awake. You have to give in your full eight hours at work, though some places it is possible to go early and come home early. Only in Ramadan you realize that how much of activities even at work involve food and drinks lunch interviews, farewell lunches, all employee meetings, company picnics, and not to mention endless cups of coffee and tea to keep one focused. 

Ramadan means that you have to draw from your inner strength, without the aid of caffeine, and continue the exemplary work so that no one can say that look at Muslims they keep fast for a month but slack off at work. We the Muslim employees working in non-Muslim workplaces work extra hard in Ramadan because honor of Islam is on our shoulders. 

Note: The marathon is a long-distance running event with an official distance of 42 KM that is usually run as a road race. The legend states that a Greek messenger was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon. It is said that he ran the entire distance (42 KM) without stopping and burst into the assembly, exclaiming "We wοn" before collapsed and died.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

The Business of Fasting

With an estimated 1.5 billion Muslims in the the world, it's likely that awareness of Ramadan is heightening in the workplace. Ramadan, which began in early of next week, is a special time of the year for adherent Muslims. It's a time of devotion, reflection and sacrifice through daily fasting and nightly prayer.

As a a Muslim is living and working abroad, I find myself difficult to keep up with my fellow non-Muslim coworker. Ramadan proves to be a tougher struggle for those living in non-Muslim countries, as Muslim employees are usually expected to be just as productive as they are during any other month.

Although energy levels might be low, the point of fasting is not to slack off from our other duties and responsibilities. We believe that we are rewarded for continuing to work and produce during our fasts. Fasting is not a reason to push meetings, clear schedules, or take a lighter load on projects.

According the results of a survey, 77% of Muslim professionals said they try to maintain the same level of work productivity during Ramadan as they do outside of Ramadan, and feel that work should continue uninterrupted. At the same time, they do expect flexibility to perform optimally both in Muslim majority countries and in countries where they are minorities.

If your Muslim co-workers seem to have low energy, are quieter than usual or do not want to partake in office festivities, this is likely a reflection of lack of food and water. So don't take it personally.

Most of us understand that life goes on, and so do lunch meetings, and if we are participating in them while fasting, don’t worry about eating in front of us. This is just part of the test. We appreciate your acknowledging our fast, but don’t feel the need to discuss it every time you show up in our line of sight holding food.

Being mindful and respectful of our colleague needs in the workplace can ensure a happy workforce, increased employee satisfaction, and better productivity. Sometimes, even just showing an interest in the background of an employee can motivate that individual to try harder.